Deposit Return Scheme – Retailer Engagement has been at the core of its success

Deposit Return Scheme –  Retailer Engagement has been at the core of its success

IF&CR asks Re-Turn CEO Ciaran Foley how the Deposit Return Scheme has performed in its first three months – with positive signs that its even exceeding expectations.

The first month was a resounding success with over 2 million drinks containers in first month of operation. Was that in line with – or beyond – expectations?

“This was a very positive result and the first month exceeded our expectations in terms of initial uptake” said Ciaran. “In our latest results, we have seen this positive growth trend continue – more than 50 million containers have been returned by Irish consumers in less than 80 days. We view these results as a positive sign that the public are engaging with the scheme.

“However, there is still much to do to ensure Irish consumers are engaged with the Scheme. We want all consumers to have a positive experience when returning their empty bottles and cans and create awareness of the importance of deposit return in ensuring less litter, less waste and better recycling for Ireland.

Now that the schemes in up and running, what has the feedback been so far from a) retailers, b) consumers, c) other stakeholders?


“Retailers have played a huge part in the success of the scheme so far. We continue to engage with them to ensure that the scheme and reverse vending machines are working efficiently for their establishments. We are always listening for their feedback to improve processes. It has been encouraging to hear how retailers and their staff have engaged with the scheme to date and are assisting customers with their returns,” explained Ciaran.


“When it comes to consumers, we have seen a range of feedback. We continue to get queries on how the scheme works and helping consumers to understand what is driving this Scheme. We are also getting feedback from consumers who are delighted to see its introduction and are already noticing significant improvements in their area when it comes to litter management.

Other Stakeholders

“Apart from positive reports on a decrease in the amounts of litter in their area, much of the feedback has been about how we can further the Deposit Return Scheme’s presence for local GAA clubs, sports clubs, and community spaces. We are continuing to engage with these stakeholders through consultation groups to see how we can get involved and implement the scheme at this level.”

What has the government reaction been – has it been supportive?

“The government have been crucial in bringing the Deposit Return Scheme to life. They were critical in helping Ireland fast-track the scheme so we could launch on 1 February and ensure that we are on track to achieve the sustainability objectives introduced at European level” he said.

“I have had the opportunity to engage with several government stakeholders on the Deposit Return Scheme and their ongoing encouragement is vital for its future success. As sustainability becomes a bigger topic for governments and country leaders, Re-turn can work with organisations on how we can make the most of this initiative.

Was incredibly hard work getting it up and running – was it stressful?

“I joined Re-turn in October 2023, and it has been fascinating to see the implementation evolve and witness the Scheme’s early adoption and positive results so far. The team behind Re-turn has been a significant component in the implementation and their advice and experience has been key in making the undertaking as smooth as possible.

“We are also not the first country to implement a Deposit Return Scheme and we looked very closely at other European countries and their experiences and challenges with its set up.

“Beginning 18 months prior to the launch of the scheme, Re-turn engaged constantly with key stakeholders including producers and retailers, to discuss how best to introduce it into Ireland- this engagement has been a critical factor in our successful launch.”

What was the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging aspect was probably all of the preparation in the build-up to the launch. The team at Re-turn and I were keen to ensure that the process and the objectives of the scheme were clearly understood by producers and retailers; with retailers we wanted to make certain that they felt comfortable with the introduction of the scheme and that the correct supports were made available to them.

“To overcome these challenges, we engaged with retailers and provided materials on the various in scope drinks containers and the processes. It was also important to provide detail on consumer behaviour and attitudes towards the scheme prior to launch. Re-turn engaged in research with key stakeholders to understand consumer and retailer attitudes towards the scheme. In January, Amárach research revealed that 82% of consumers support the introduction of the deposit return scheme and 95% of consumers plan to engage with the circular economy initiative.

“In my role, I met with participating retailers and outlined how significant their support and collaboration would be in achieving Ireland’s sustainability goals and driving true change for consumers. These meetings were critical as they were an opportunity to discuss the scheme’s objectives and provide a forum for retailers to discuss the scheme candidly.”

What went well?

“I feel the scheme overall has had a great start. Over 2,300 Reverse Vending Machines are now live across the country and Re-turn has facilitated over 16.3 million transactions at these return points.

“We have continued to expand our network of retailers and are ensuring that return facilities are available all over Ireland for consumers. The expanded network is critical to the initiative’s success, and I am thankful to our partners who have played a significant role in helping us deliver on this aspect.”

Would you do anything differently looking back?

“We very much see the Deposit Return Scheme as an evolving process, and we are continuing to develop and improve the Scheme to ensure that it continues to work well for both consumers, retailers and all our stakeholders.

Behavioural change

“We understand that this is a huge behavioural change for all Irish consumers” – surely this is a strong example of how behavioural change can happen with the right attitude and buy-in from the public – for the benefit of all? Do you think people recognise the need for this scheme to happen?

“Sustainability is now an important consideration for Irish consumers, but the Scheme asks consumers for additional effort in their recycling habits.

“We have been engaging in ongoing advertising campaigns, public information notices, and initiatives to encourage people to continue to engage with the Deposit Return Scheme. However, one of the most common questions asked is “Why can’t I just continue to use my recycling bin?”

Reverse Vending Machines

“It is important that these drinks containers are recycled separately and through reverse vending machines (RVMs) as it is the most effective way to process them. Currently, all recycled materials in recycling bins are mixed, which can lead to contamination. This mixture relies on conveyor machines in recycling centres to identify plastic bottles and cans. By separating plastic and aluminium from general recycling, we can achieve a 98% quality of recyclate, surpassing the 80% effectiveness of the recycling bin system.

“We would strongly encourage everyone to keep returning their empty plastic bottles and cans to their local deposit return point, rather than disposing of them through recycling bins or on our streets, as the Scheme is set up to provide a more efficient method of recycling and we really don’t want anyone to lose money by throwing away their deposit.

“This separation not only allows for the continuous recycling of aluminium but also enables plastic bottles to be recycled up to seven times. I think that people’s buy-in to the scheme is reflected in the return rates. We are seeing changes in behaviour, and I am impressed by some of the anecdotes and creative ways people are choosing to spend their returned deposits.”

Circular economy initiative

The Deposit Return Scheme is a practical circular economy initiative that aims to create a closed-loop recycling system guaranteeing that the material is returned and recycled. The EU has set Ireland a target for the separate collection of 77% by 2025 and 90% by 2029. Will it meet its target?

“A Deposit Return system is a proven successful solution to achieving separate recycling targets.

The 90% target is completely dependent on buy-in from retailers and consumers. The support of these stakeholders really cannot be overstated, and it is my priority that we continue to progress towards this goal as it will unlock incredible sustainability opportunities for Ireland going forward.

A successful scheme could result in Re-turn establishing significant facilities for recycling plastic on the island at scale. This would create a closed circular loop for our bottle and can recycling efforts that reduces the amount of recycling sent offshore or to the incinerator.

What more needs done – what’s the next steps?

“We are already in the process of discussing how this scheme can evolve and grow to introduce a range of new initiatives to support positive environmental change for the island of Ireland.

“We have been reaching out to stakeholders to see how we can expand the scheme beyond retailers and implementing the initiative into community centres, sports grounds, and schools.

Are you proud of what’s been achieved?

“I am incredibly proud of what has been achieved so far. The implementation of this scheme is historic for Ireland especially in the context of our sustainability goals and I am delighted to be at the helm of such a crucial circular economy initiative. By introducing a deposit return scheme, Ireland is joining a global success story which is thriving in 40+ markets worldwide, including fourteen countries in Europe!”

Tell me about your career to date? What skills, knowledge and experience did you bring to the role?

“I have spent over three decades in senior leadership roles. As Managing Director of DHL Supply Chain Ireland, I led an organisation of almost 1,000 employees providing logistical solutions for customers across multiple sectors. I also established the DHL Supply Chain business as the leader in sustainability for logistics solutions in Ireland and secured an €80m investment for the long-term supply of biomethane to 100% decarbonise DHL’s transport business.

As Supply Chain Director of Tesco Ireland, I oversaw the best-in-class operations across all elements of supply chain and distribution within the company whilst taking on responsibilities for essential KPIs in retail, including waste and shrinkage.

I have spent the best part of my career working with incredible teams and individuals across a range of sectors. I have been fortunate to be a part of some incredible projects with national and international reach, this experience has taught me not only what it means to lead a business but to do so successfully.

What attracted you to the role of CEO at Re-Turn?

“I saw Re-turn as an opportunity to use my logistics and retail experience to lead the implementation of this scheme and play a part in Ireland’s sustainable future.

“I am very passionate about sustainability. I am also a Non-Executive Director at FoodCloud Ireland, the charity that strives to reduce food waste in Ireland and internationally through innovative IT solutions that make excess food from retail outlets and providers available to charities. Re-turn, as an organisation is aligned with my own personal goals so the fit was natural.”

Any closing comments or remarks not covered in the questions above?

“I think it is key to state that we have started on the right foot. The important part to understand here is that the Deposit Return Scheme is a process which is always undergoing change and refinement. In order to continue to build on the impressive start we have had, it is key that consumers and retailers continue to work collaboratively with us. Our goal is to transform how we approach recycling and have the nation adopt this process and continue to make progress for a greener society. I really want consumers to continue to redeem their deposits and be a part of Ireland’s sustainable future.”